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Chicago Pride Parade marches on after tires slashed on 51 floats

Annie Roge Jenn Maley are enthusiastic as they watch 42nd annual Pride Parade Sunday  Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Annie Roge and Jenn Maley are enthusiastic as they watch the 42nd annual Pride Parade Sunday in Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 28, 2011 2:33PM

If it was an attempt to stop Sunday’s 42nd annual Chicago Pride Parade, it didn’t work.

Just hours after more than 50 parade floats had their tires slashed in what parade-goers called a hate crime, hundreds of thousands of revellers marched on the streets surrounding Lakeview’s Boystown area for a colorful celebration of gay, lesbian and transgender identities.

Organizers said the attendance likely was a record, exceeding the 450,000 who came last year.

Most of the more than 90 floats made it, too, thanks to a heroic last minute effort that saw all but three of the 51 vandalized floats repaired in time for the noon parade.

“I firmly believe it was a hate crime,” said Chuck Huser, the manager of float supplier Associated Attractions, who found and installed more than 100 replacement tires at short notice after a break-in at his warehouse in the 4800 block of South Halsted.

Huser said he left the warehouse at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and found all 51 floats damaged in his facility when he returned at 5 a.m. Nothing was stolen. The vandal or vandals likely got in through a window and “were probably here a long time to do so much damage in the dark,” he said, estimating the cost to his business at $20,000.

“We’ve been supplying floats for all the city parades for more than 30 years and this has never happened before — it’s a terrible crime against us and the gay community,” he added.

Chicago Police were still classifying the vandalism as a property crime Sunday evening, though the investigation was ongoing.

Many viewers enjoying the parade’s flamboyant and outlandish costumes — which included the wedding veils worn by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin lookalikes — were unaware of the vandalism. Those who were aware did not need to wait for further evidence before blaming bigotry.

“Hate crimes are illegal and that is just an absolutely cowardly and rotten thing to do,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan — one of countless politicians working the crowd on the parade route.

Parade-goer Kristina Hughes, 32, added, “I think there’s a minority that’s uncomfortable with what’s happening, when the gay community is establishing more rights that they should have had before. They’re trying to send us back to the ’70s, back to when Stonewall happened.”

The vandalized floats included one sponsored by Spin nightclub, which was to have hosted members of the Logo TV show RuPaul’s Drag U and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

When it could not be fixed in time, they hopped aboard the last float in the parade, sponsored by Grab magazine.

“Unfortunately there are people out there that aren’t open to what we are and who we are,” said cast member Ongina.

“They’re just going to have to suck it up. There’s no room for ignorance.”

The Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame float was repaired in time to be used in the parade. “We just said they can try and stop us, but they can’t,” said the organization’s Dean Ogren as the float prepared to take off.

Before he hopped aboard the float with a group of men dressed in purple, pink, orange and yellow floral head gear and mini skirts, Michael Cunningham pointed to legislation passed in New York allowing same-sex marriage.

“I’m hoping we’re going to be the next state to follow,” said Cunningham, who was there with his partner of eight years, Sean McGill.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky agreed gay marriage would likely spread. “For this generation, and the next, it’s not an issue for them. Everyone should have equal rights,” she said.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (14th District) — whose float was also targeted — said New York’s decision may even have provoked the attack.

But she added, “The first parade had no floats. We don’t need floats to have a great parade.

“The Grinch can’t steal the pride parade.”

Contributing: Sarah Ostman and Neil Steinberg

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